Towards the end of Level 1 of the course, I finally asked for an extension on an assignment. I had a lot going on, in multiple parts of my life, and it seemed easier to acknowledge that and ask for an extension than it did to keep forcing myself to stick to the due date. This was quite a big deal for me. I had previously told myself that I would never ask for an extension on an assignment so, all of a sudden, my personal standards were being broken, and it took some effort to come to terms with that. The most that I could bring myself to ask for was an extension of 2 days. In my mind, this was akin to a 9-day extension anyway, because I usually always submitted my assignments up to a week early. I was quite anxious about this decision: Is this the first sign that I am heading for failure in the course?
By pure coincidence, I had a video coaching conversation already scheduled with my instructor so, at the very end of the conversation, I quietly asked for a 2-day extension. I had tears in my eyes and was trying very hard not to cry as I asked. I felt so guilty and ashamed of myself for not being able to honour the assignment due date. Our instructor looked at me and said “Deanne, thank goodness you have finally figured out what this course is about! Yes, it is fine to submit it late!” I was so relieved! Because of the way in which our instructor had reacted, I think I even managed to feel proud of myself for making a request and managing my commitment. That said, I still held the expectation that this request was an exception and not an example of who I wanted to be. There would be no further requests for assignment extensions! Enter, Level 2 of the course…
Level 2 of the course was focused on emotional learning. Some people wondered how this level of the course would go; their interpretation was that focusing on and being with our emotions sounded a little daunting. For me, this didn’t really feel like an issue. It was what it was and, on the whole, I took my emotional analyses in my stride.
What was an issue for me, however, was the insanely huge amount of learning that seemed to be generated for me from this level of the course. I would read the course papers, and my mind would go crazy as it went down rabbit warren after rabbit warren, expanding everything that came up and applying it to life in general. I would find myself musing for hours over the ontological interpretation of moods, emotions and learning, and how to apply these to our experience of society. My mind was constantly hungry for new learning; its appetite was insatiable. The more learning that occurred, the more learning that my mind yearned for. This was very enriching, and also very exhausting.
I felt as though this level of the course was generating so much thought for me, and I found the constantly busy mind somewhat overwhelming. I almost had to physically dump my thoughts regularly in order to cope with the overwhelming level of learning, which meant that my assignments were becoming longer and longer (our poor instructor!). I started to feel as though my thoughts were running me ragged again. On top of this, I had started a new job at the beginning of Level 2, so was trying to prove myself and come up to speed in that, whilst also managing a busy few months of home life activities. This level felt really tough, and I felt really exhausted.
So, after silently declaring in Level 1 that I would never ask for an extension, and fearing that my one request for an extension meant that I was within failure’s grasp, Level 2 became the level where I hardly ever submitted an assignment on time. I started by asking for extensions of one or two days. My requests at that point were accompanied by self-judgement so asking for one or two days was all that I could manage. Slowly, I came to realise that I wasn’t failing; I was taking care of myself and managing my commitments. If I felt that I needed an extension of a week in order to manage a commitment, I would ask for it. I had finally accepted that, in Level 1, I was being the person who could not submit an assignment late and, in Level 2, I was being the person who needed just a little bit of love and kindness to get through. And I would get there.
To ensure that I didn’t unwittingly head down the path of not finishing the course, I set myself one boundary: Regardless of when I submitted each individual assignment, everything was to be completed by the Level 2 closing date. I wanted to finish the level on time. To me, this was not negotiable because I didn’t want to go into Level 3 with a backlog of work from Level 2.
About two-thirds of the way through Level 2, the busyness that seemed to be occurring in every part of my existence reached a peak. In the middle of what I felt was an incredibly busy time for my family life and work life, we had a public workshop to present for our course. The workshop was amazing and I loved it. However, I had also placed a lot of pressure on myself to prepare for it and to get through it, at a time when I had a lot going on. By the time the workshop was over, I was exhausted. If I am completely honest, I was also quite deeply affected by something that had happened at the very end of the day of the workshop. It felt like such a petty thing to react to and in a more resourceful way of being, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. However, with the weight of exhaustion, it really took hold.
The workshop occurred on day two of a three day conference. On the third day, we had our workshop debrief and were then invited to coach each other. Being a coaching course, this was something that we did at the in-person conferences and catch-ups; it was how we learned to be coaches. It was also something that I had lots of ups and downs with. In the early days, I was so fixated on perfection, and on creating an experience that was as wonderful as what I felt that my coach had created for me, that my determination and anxiety often unwittingly thwarted the very thing that I was trying to achieve. On that day after the workshop, I was still affected by the event that had happened the previous day. I was also judging myself as a coach. My assessment was that my coaching at the local conferences had never lived up to my expectations and so I was placing pressure on myself regarding how I was likely to perform this time.
In hindsight, I should have declined the opportunity to coach. I was not in a resourceful way of being, and I was not going to be a useful resource for the coachee from that way of being. However, my determination took over, and I went ahead with coaching.
And then I couldn’t do it.
I defaulted to the very pattern that had started this whole coaching process: I beat myself up for not being able to perform, and then I completely broke down. At the conference. In front of the instructor and other colleagues.
I felt quite broken as I sat there and watched other people coach. I started to question everything: Why did I ever think I could do this? Why do people keep investing time and effort into supporting me? Why can’t I stop being so silly and just get on with it?
When we had finished all of the coaching – with me trying not to sob as I watched – we were invited to do some physical movement. I couldn’t; I just sat there. After a minute or so, I felt someone massaging my shoulders. My whole body tensed, and my first thought was “Oh my goodness, someone is touching me. I really don’t want to be touched”. My second and almost immediate thought was “Wow. That feels like kindness. Someone is giving me kindness”. So, as much as touching was so not my thing, I relaxed into the massage and allowed myself to sit there in pure gratitude, giving the kindness permission to flow through my body.
When we left the conference that day, our instructor suggested that I be kind and compassionate towards myself. To be honest, I thought that he was being incredibly kind and generous, and also making excuses for me. I started to beat myself up more, for being the type of person who created a situation where people felt they had to make excuses for me. However, my mind kept going back to his comment and there was a part of me who felt that he must have said it for a reason.
On the way home from the conference, I started to reflect on what had happened, and how I had been feeling. I reminded myself that I was a committed learner, and that I would get through this. I was still beating myself up, however I could also see other possibilities for action. I could also see learning that had been waiting to happen.No more dwelling, Deanne. There is learning to be had!
By the time I arrived home, I was ready to go into full scale learner mode about this latest challenge. I had also decided that, during the next day or two, I would contact my former coach and request a coaching conversation about what happened. I really felt that I wanted to be perturbed about my coaching anxiety and I felt like he was the coach to achieve this. I had about 24 hours of to-ing and fro-ing about whether I would be bothering him or imposing on his time before I finally decided to make the request: Make a request, acknowledge that you know he is busy, and make the possibility of saying no to your request available to him. From that point, it is his choice, not yours. Make the damned request!”
In the evening of the day after the conference, as I was beating myself up over how much of my assignment was left to do, I remembered the instructor’s words about showing myself kindness and compassion. I started to think that perhaps he had a point; perhaps he wasn’t making excuses for me after all. I decided to reflect on how I might achieve self-kindness and self-compassion: What requests can I make right now that would show self-kindness and self-compassion? What other requests might help me right now?
The first thing to come to me was that I wanted to delay submitting my assignment. I wanted time to enjoy life and be me, without feeling pressured to complete an assignment. I also realised that I wasn’t ready to commit to a date on which I wanted to submit the assignment. I felt a little broken, and I just wanted time to be me, with no commitments outside of my family and my job.
My interpretation of the assignment due date was that it was a request from our instructor that we complete the assignment by that date. I also assumed that, by not having said anything to the contrary, I had effectively committed to delivering on that date; an unspoken commitment. It was time to manage that commitment with my instructor. Right. So you don’t want to submit the assignment on time, and you don’t know when you want to commit to getting it done. How are you going to turn that into a request that manages the commitment that you have already made for this assignment?
Something that we tend to forget when people make requests of us is that there are a number of possibilities for how we respond; the answer does not have to be yes. Below is a list of those possibilities:
- No without a reason
- No with a reason. I am sorry, I can’t do that because we will be going away.
- Commit to commit later. I can’t give you an answer right now. I can give you an answer by Friday COB.
- Renegotiate the commitment. I can’t help you on Friday because I have another commitment. I can help you on Saturday, if that would be useful.
- Slippery promise – this is not a commitment. I’ll see what I can do.
On this occasion, I chose to renegotiate the assignment commitment, with a commitment to commit later:
Would you mind if I delay submitting Assignment 14, please?
What I would like to do is to take it easy this week, then see where I am at next weekend. If this is ok with you, I can commit to letting you know by the end of next weekend a date on which I will be able to submit the assignment.
The perfectionist in me says that if I was to write a similar email right now, I would word it differently. However, I also appreciate that this is what I had available to me from the way of being that I was operating from at that time. Regardless of that, sending this email felt liberating and powerful and wonderful. My instructor accepted my request, and I had a wonderful week of simply being. I took care of myself and my family and I did so from a point of compassion and love, rather than the guilt and shame that had started to own me at that point:
I cannot believe how therapeutic taking care of myself has been! During the week after the conference, I just allowed myself to be. If I wanted to do some assignment, I did it. If I wanted to make tomato soup, I did it. If my children wanted me to snuggle down with them before bed, then I did it and forgot about whether my assignment was due. I spent time with my husband without worrying about what else I was meant to be doing. If I wanted to sleep, or be lazy, I did it. And I did it all without feeling guilty about anything else that might not have been done. Prior to that week, everything that I did or didn’t do seemed to be surrounded by guilt. In this week, everything I did was surrounded by love, care and admiration for myself. I was taking care of me. I am going to look at what I can take forward from this week, into my being in general (and I am going to find a way of holding myself to account for that commitment).
Following my week of taking care of me, I committed to a date on which I would submit the assignment and, true to form, I submitted it a couple of days earlier than my commitment.
The experience of Level 2 of this course was, I think, a massive turning point for me and, of course, I wrote about it in my assignment:
Throughout my ontological journey, I have found that every so often I reach a point in my learning where I assess that there is absolutely no going back from that point; just moving forward. Level 2 was one of those occasions for me. I can only move forward from here…In my assessment, by far my most significant learning from Level 2 has been around taking care of myself. This is massive. In Level 2, I have been relentless in the way in which I have judged (possibly even crucified) myself, even in situations where I would have given other people huge accolades. The Regional Conference enabled me to learn how to look at myself differently. I am now observing myself with less self judgement and more compassion, which has been wonderful. I am very much a learner with regard to taking care of myself, and I am slowly working towards a regular practice. It is amazing how much I can achieve when I am not beating myself up for every move!
The learning that came from this experience was truly amazing, and I was both grateful and proud that I had really started to apply my new learning within two to three days of the conference experience.
I finished Level 2 with an appreciation of what it means to take care of myself, and an understanding of how much I was inclined to not take care of myself. I was quite horrified to see how harsh I would often be with myself, especially when I believed that I had high expectations for how I would treat others. Why would you think that other people could be more legitimate than you, Deanne? Why can’t you hold others as legitimate whilst also holding yourself as legitimate?
I made a commitment to myself that I would notice how I was treating myself from that point on, and that I try to approach myself from a point of kindness. Although I didn’t always get it perfect, I could at least now see when I was starting to be a little harsh on myself, and I could stop, ask myself why, and find an alternative. Deanne, how would you treat someone else in the same situation?
The two big points that came out of this experience for me were around the legitimate other and the legitimate self. Holding someone as the legitimate other means holding them with a deep level of respect and understanding that the actions that they are taking are what is available to them from their current way of being. We don’t have to like that behaviour. If, however, we understand that they have no other behaviour available to them at that particular point in time, we can go a long way towards respecting them and interacting with them in ways that serve the individual and ourselves.
In my earlier blog posts, I mentioned that I had learnt to take care of myself, and had also learned to be healthily determined with a dose of self-care. The experience of Level 2 of this course was the turning point for me.
In addition to the concept of the legitimate other, there is also the legitimate self. My interpretation of this is that we hold ourselves with a deep level of respect and understand that, from our current way of being, we have certain actions that are available to us and certain things that are important to us that we are trying to take care of.
My struggle during Level 2 of the course was that I felt as though I could either hold others as legitimate or myself as legitimate, but not both. The action that I tended to default to was to hold others as legitimate and neglect myself. For example, there might be aspects of my own work that were impacted by someone not turning up to a meeting without notice. However, I would tend to accept their behaviour by telling myself it was what they had available to them at that point in time, then keep my own thoughts and opinions quiet.
What my experience of this course taught me was that it is ok for me to have opinions and thoughts about someone else’s behaviour, whilst also holding the individual and myself as legitimate. For example, if I felt that someone was being inconsiderate by not turning up to a meeting, and had assessed that my work was going to suffer because of that behaviour, my default would generally be to accept that they couldn’t turn up, and then push myself harder to compensate for their behaviour. What I realised was that I was upset at someone else’s behaviour, yet taking it upon myself to cover the gaps caused by their behaviour. How could I be upset by their behaviour, acknowledge that it was a result of their way of being, and also set some boundaries that took care of my needs? What requests could I make that would help me to address the things that were important to me?I understand that you were unable to turn up to this meeting. The meeting was important to me for these reasons. Is there a time during the next few days where we could meet to cover off these points, please? Were there some boundaries that I could set? I understand that you could not come to the meeting. This has had an impact on my ability to do X as per your request. I can still meet the deadline for X if you provide me with A. B & C. Can you arrange that please? Without A, B & C, I will not meet the deadline.
As I worked through this, I started to find ways of holding myself as legitimate whilst also holding others as legitimate, and I also started to explore boundaries. What boundaries can I set that will support my own legitimacy whilst also holding the other person as legitimate?
Understanding how to simultaneously hold myself and others as legitimate then led to me understanding more about taking care of myself. I have now learnt to notice the signs of self-judgement and ask myself how I would treat someone else in the same situation. I have also learnt to pause and ask myself what would serve me before I respond to requests and offers.
Points to Ponder…
I invite you to think of a situation or relationship that may not be going as you would like.
- Where are you not holding yourself or others as legitimate?
- What would it take to hold yourself and others as legitimate?
- How are you taking care of yourself? Would actions would be more serving?
- Where would it be useful to show some self-kindness?
- What boundaries are you setting and why?
- What boundaries would be useful for you to set?
Who am I?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.